Scarlett Dark is the lead singer, keyboardist, and a founding member of the San Francisco Bay Area rock band, Lipshok. Their music is described as “progressive symphonic metal that is unique, gothic, haunting, melodic, ethereal, and highly commercial.” At one time a cover band, they now have three albums behind them with a fourth due out later this year, in which most of the songs are penned by Scarlett.
In the mundane world (as she puts it) Scarlett is known as Debbi Douglas; wife, mother, and tennis pro. No kidding ….and her tennis credentials are impressive. As a competitor, Debbi (as I’ll refer to her when I’m talking about her tennis career) was ranked as high as number 4 in women’s singles in California. In college, she reached number 7 in the NCAA, and was a two time All American. She was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at Cal State Hayward, just last year. Even though many of Debbi’s colleagues and students at the Harbor Bay Tennis Club (where she works by day) are aware of her alter ego, Scarlett Dark, this revelation will probably come as a “shok” to Lipshok fans reading this. Just read on to learn more about the Lipshok frontwoman. Above photo of Scarlett performing at the Mojo Lounge in Fremont, is courtesy of Scarlett, herself.
CHRIS CHARLES: It’s especially great to have another San Francisco Bay Area lady here, Scarlett. Were you born and raised in the Bay Area? SCARLETT DARK: Yes. I was born in Berkeley and grew up in Piedmont and now live in Hayward. Bay Area raised all the way. CHRIS: It’s interesting that you have two sides to you: Singer and keyboardist of Lipshok and tennis pro. Which came first in your life, music or tennis? SCARLETT: Interesting question. I never thought about it, but music came first. I remember at four, singing in front of audiences. I have always loved performing. I’m a total ham. And acting too. I loved being in all the musicals and choirs and all growing up. My parents both played tennis and so they took me for lessons when I wanted to be good at it. Fortunately at a very young age, as to be good in tennis and achieve something noteworthy you have to start young. But I’ve always done both. CHRIS: I’ll start with the musical side of you. Who were your earliest musical influences? SCARLETT: Oh, I’ve always loved Elton John and the Beatles. Heart, Pat Benetar. And then I loved that 80s rock which obviously influenced me. But now my influences are all European symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and Within Temptation. It’s interesting how your musical tastes can and do change. At least mine do and did. Besides my own music, the symphonic metal is all I listen to. I mean, I listen to the radio, but if I really want to hear music, I would put in a CD. CHRIS: What bands were you in before Lipshok?
SCARLETT: I had my own band in high school, I don’t even remember the name! (laughs) But we played my original music back then. I played piano and I had a guitarist, a violinist, and a drummer. I remember performing eventually with a bass player, but I don’t remember who or when. Then my first real club performing band was St. Denis. I had one keyboard and didn’t sing the whole time, and barely knew how to turn my equipment on. Tennis had a lot of my time back then. It wasn’t until I was at the end of my tennis playing that I really had the time to devote to music only. Tennis at that level requires a lot of practice and training and at 5-6 hours a day on the court. I was sort of out of the music scene for a while. Lipshok was truly created in the early 90s and shortly became a busy band.
CHRIS: So exactly how did Lipshok form?
SCARLETT: Late 80s, early 90s. Me and some friends from St. Denis were jamming around and the 2nd guitar player at the time, touched his lips to the mic to sing something and got a huge lip shock. I mean I saw a blue arc from his mouth to the mic! (Laughs) And he said; “Oh, I shocked my lips!” and I said “Ooooo, a lip shock” and then the drummer said “Lipshok! That’s the name of the band!” and I said; “No, I don’t want that!” and everyone else said; “Yeah, that’s it! Let’s keep that!” So, I got stuck with it and had to live with it. Of course, we quickly became a working, gigging band and the name had a good rep so I just kept it. I did change the spelling though from “lipshock” to “lipshok” without a “c,” so it at least looked cooler. And a good thing I did too, as there is a band in England called “Lipshock”!
CHRIS: When it comes to songwriting; do you have a formula ….I mean, do you write a melody and put lyrics to it, vice versa, or….?
SCARLETT: Oh, one of my favorite questions. How does the songwriting come? You know, this is fascinating. I have always played piano ….now keyboards and piano, synthesizers, etc., and written songs. I remember doing this. And I have always done it the same way. I sit at the piano or keyboard and start messing around with chords. The songs come so quickly that when I finish, I don’t remember putting it together. I start playing with chord progressions and then the vocal melody comes almost instantaneously along with it. I don’t have the lyrics right away, just a melody with some words that come naturally. Usually the feeling of the chords and combinations give me an idea of a story for lyrics. Sometimes it’s what I’m feeling at the time; upset about something, depressed, or thinking about a certain situation, and I just let them flow. In about 10-20 minutes, I’m completely done. Song, chords, changes, breaks, melody, lyrics, etc. Literally. I have two new songs for the next CD I wrote 10 minutes. before a practice. It’s weird though. When I listen to “The Soul of a Broken Mind” for example, I know I wrote the songs but I can’t remember the actual process. It seems to happen unconsciously. Does that make sense? And the real cool part though is when everyone in the band adds their parts. I mean, I have an idea what I want everyone to do on drums, bass, and guitar-wise, but man, when they put their parts in, the song then has a life of its own. I don’t really write the guitar or bass or drum parts. They pretty much put their own flavor to it and it makes the song HUGE! To me, anyway. Although I can play all the songs with just piano and vocals and so I have my own unplugged versions ready to go! In college I was a music major and my instrument was voice and I was an opera singer. I had to study piano but I had a hard time after playing by ear for so many years and reading piano music was hard. I finished college with a degree in speech communications.
CHRIS: As you may know, I recently interviewed another Bay Area lady rocker and songwriter, Caroline Blind, who’s currently with Dammit! Has Lipshok played any of the same venues as them?
SCARLETT: As a matter of fact, we played with Dammit! at a club in Mountain View last year and Caroline is a friend of mine. She’s terrific! They are a totally cool band and really fun and supportive and we hope to play with them again. And yes, I’m sure we’ve played a lot of the same venues. I don’t know offhand which ones, but I’m sure we have.
CHRIS: What are your favorite Bay Area clubs to play?
SCARLETT: There are really only a couple. Red Hat in Concord has been supportive to original bands for quite a few years and really gives us a lot of chances to play there. Annex in San Lorenzo has a huge stage and great sound, so that’s a fun place to play. The Pine Street Bar in Livermore is also pretty fun as the owner is super friendly and generous. There are some great places to play in the Bay Area but unfortunately I have not been able to get us in there yet. That sucks big time. But my most favorite place to play was the Santa Rita county jail. Lipshok was a cover band from ’98 ’til March, 2009 and we played A LOT and made A LOT of money doing weddings, graduations, Bar Mitzvahs and corporate events, as well as the cover band club scene. Originals were put on hold for a while as the money was intoxicating. And during that time we played Santa Rita jail about 13 times and I’ll tell you did they appreciate the music! A truly captive audience. We got a lot of publicity one time for that show through a tennis student of mine back then who was a publicist. I traded her a lesson for a publicity press release, and we were on the cover of 10 Bay Area newspapers. “Band with no record goes to prison!” Great tag line huh? Although we did have a CD out at that time, which was the first Lipshok CD Electress, released in 1997, and it still shows up around places!
CHRIS: Many things in the Bay Area are changing due to gentrification. especially in San Francisco. As far as the music scene here goes; is there anything or anyplace that’s no longer here that you especially miss?
SCARLETT: I miss the Stone in San Francisco. We played there a bunch of times with some national acts: April Wine and Craig Chaquico from Starship that I remember. And at The Hill in Oakland we played with Greg Kihn and also Alameda All Stars, who were basically the guys from Night Ranger. This was in the early 90s, and these places are no more. Also, the Stone was a “pay-to-play” venue. You had 100 tickets to sell, and the split was 60/40 (60 to the club) and if you didn’t give your percentage to the club before you played, they kept your equipment. So if the tix were $10, we had to give $600 to the club before we played. So if band members didn’t sell their percentage, we had to come up with the money, and that was most of the time as you always gave tickets away and/or sold them at a discount. But you could get on some fantastic bills. That April Wine show was huge with a line down the streets. Several thousand people.
CHRIS: Oh, yes, I fondly recall the “pay-to-play” days. So, moving on to Debbi, the tennis pro. Did you fall in love with the sport the first time you picked up a racket, or did it take some encouragement?
SCARLETT: My dad took me to lessons, and the sport was always so easy for me that I just kept doing it. I was always an athlete and was on the swim team and the volleyball teams and playing tennis before I had to give up the first two to just do tennis. Tennis is the kind of sport that if you want to be good at it you can’t do other sports because of the practice/training time it takes to put in for tennis. Seven days a week, most of your waking hours. Although I eventually took a day off just to rest. It was like music, tennis, music, then tennis again, and finally just music. Although my last college years, I was competing heavily and doing the band, late 80s to early 90s, and was doing both pretty heavily.
CHRIS: When did you first start playing competitively?
SCARLETT: Pretty young age. 9, 10. Seriously competing at 13. Even more serious, as an adult at the open level, and then in college. I went back to school after turning pro and was really not doing very well, not on a national or international level to make a living at it, and teaching to supplement my income.
CHRIS: How high were you ranked as a tennis player, in California and nationally?
SCARLETT: The highest rankings I ever had professionally, in CA mostly, was number 4 singles, number 1 women’s doubles, number 2 mixed doubles. In the world I would have been in the top 500, which is not to say a lot in tennis because only the top 100 or so make a living on the tour. In college, my highest ranking was number 7 singles NCAA Division 2 nationally. That’s a good one. Number 11 nationally in doubles. My favorite achievement though is a 2 time All American in singles. This is achieved in tennis 3 ways: Top 8 rankings, top 8 seedings at the nationals, or a quarterfinalist at nationals. I got it one year as a quarterfinalist at nationals, and the next year with a top 8 ranking. And finally I just got indoctrinated into the Athletic Hall of Fame at my school (Cal State Hayward then, now Cal State Easy Bay) in 2014 for women’s tennis. I set every school record, men’s and women’s, and I graduated in 1992. Took them a while, huh? (Laughs)
CHRIS: Wow. Care to drop any names of opponents you’ve played against?
SCARLETT: I don’t think I ever played anyone you’ve heard of. The tennis circuit is huge and there are a lot of good players never recognized as the public only sees the biggest stars on TV and such.
CHRIS: A big congratulations on being inducted into the Cal State East Bay Athletics Hall of Fame. Tell me more about that, because that’s quite an honor.
SCARLETT: I will say it was so exciting to finally be recognized for my achievements up there. I mean, my record for 3 years was like 85 and 8 in singles. I don’t think anyone else ever did that, men included. The whole event was awesome and the athletic department remembered so much about my tennis that I hadn’t thought about as it had been over 20 years since I graduated in ’92. Now of course, I went back to school after quitting the first time and had 3 years eligibility left for Cal State, and I had been playing open tennis for all those years before. So my experience level was high. Especially for NCAA Division 2 tennis. But to know that my name is up on the wall at the school for my tennis gives me great satisfaction and I feel more complete about the whole experience.
CHRIS: Do you think pro tennis has changed much over the last 20 years?
SCARLETT: Yes and no. One thing is the racquet technology has changed the game. Players hit a lot harder than they did 20 years ago, truly. I mean if you watch a match from the 90s and you watch a match now, the older one looks like slow motion ball traveling! And they are all so big! Especially the women! So many of the women are over 6 feet tall. I’m only 5’3, so I look like a hobbit compared to the girls now. But what hasn’t changed is the time you have to put in to be good at it. Nothing can change fitness and practice levels.
CHRIS: Do any of your tennis students know you “moonlight” playing in a rock band?
SCARLETT: Yup. You bet they do. First now that I have all these tattoos and colored hair, which is okay at the club where I work now, didn’t work so much at the last club as I had to be more conservative. I’m not your average tennis pro. Anyways, my looks give me away that I do something other than just live in the tennis world. And when I have shows on a weekend, I try to conserve my voice for singing, which is tough with some of the kids groups I teach as they can be unruly!! ….and I tell them I am talking softer because I have a show this weekend. A few of my students have come to shows. Usually it’s too loud, or they love it, or they didn’t really care. Tennis people are normally not wild and crazy people. I’ve sold some CDs to students as well and the responses are mixed, as well. But that’s okay. Tennis is a job at this point. It’s a cool day job though, but of course as a musician you need to keep your day jobs!!
CHRIS: How about vice-versa? Many Lipshok fans know your day job is as a tennis instructor?
SCARLETT: No. Hardly any. And they are completely shocked when they find out. I use the name Scarlett Dark in music. It’s a much cooler name than my real name which is associated with tennis; Debbi Douglas, or officially Deborah Douglas. I mean, come on. Who wants the name “Debbi” fronting a metal band? Puh-lease. “Scarlett Dark” is so much more mysterious and metal and dark and exciting. At least I like to think so! (laughs) But in tennis I have to use my real name for it’s known in the tennis world.
CHRIS: Well I’m sure Lipshok fans, who knew nothing about your “mild-mannered” alter ego, Debbi, the tennis pro, will be blown away when they read this. So with that, I’ll say again it’s been a pleasure, Scarlett. In closing, any shout-outs to anyone?
SCARLETT: You know, first I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about myself and my life. I think it’s important for girls to know that they can pursue their own dreams and don’t have to dumb it down for anyone. I have a wonderful husband, who is the bass player in Lipshok and that is how we met in the early 90’s. His name’s Phil, also known as “Chunky,” who has supported my singing and songwriting throughout all these years. And we have been working together on this Lipshok shit all this time. Of course, he has to move more equipment that me as I am a princess and I can’t lift most of my stuff so he helps me, plus I have trouble even plugging it in! (laughs) And we have a wonderful 17 year-old son, Devin, who is a fantastic drummer in his own bands and who’s been helping us sometimes, too. Devin doesn’t play tennis, and he doesn’t want to, but that’s okay. He’s a good kid who is turning into a great man and a great person of integrity and honor and we are very proud of him.
Official video for “Path of Stone,” the first single from Lipshok’s
most recent album The Soul of a Broken Mind
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the quarterly magazine, Effective.